The future of the National Front

Well, it’s officially over: Emmanuel Macron won the French election last night, and with his victory my first foreign election experience of 2017 is coming to a close.

Unlike the first two stories I wrote, which focused more on Macron and his voters, I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking primarily about the National Front: understanding who Le Pen’s voters are, what they want and how the party has changed to attract its new supporters. So, what happens to Le Pen and her National Front after Sunday, when she underperformed polls and announced her party would undergo a “profound transformation”?

LePenMarseille

It’s true that Sunday’s result elicited a major sigh of relief from most of the Western world, and that taken together with election results in Austria last December and the Netherlands in March this feels like a decisive third strike against far-right populism in Europe. But to write Le Pen off going forward would be premature: just because she lost on Sunday doesn’t mean she and her supporters will go away. In fact, there’s reason to believe this might just be the beginning (if Le Pen plays her cards right). I wrote about that last night for The Atlantic.

That said, her party faces some real, serious internal divisions — ones that are likely to grow, and spill out into public view, now that Le Pen has made it clear she wants to “deeply renew” the party (and, aides have said, potentially even change its name). There’s a faction, headed by her 27-year-old niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, that would prefer a return to the more hard-line message and tactics of Jean-Marie Le Pen; others, including Marine Le Pen herself, believe the party’s new message is what will win them electoral success. I explored those internal tensions here, in a piece for Foreign Policy.

And finally, my conversations with about two dozen National Front voters contributed to this piece for the GroundTruth Project, looking at how this election has reshaped traditional notions of political demographics in France.

It has been a busy few weeks — both with reporting here in Paris, and with a quick trip back to the U.S. during the last week of April — but I also hope to post some thoughts in this space about my first month in France, and on covering French politics generally. Stay tuned!

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